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Lincoln Ave. a Dead Zone Without Children's Memorial, Business Owners Say

By Paul Biasco | August 5, 2013 6:55am
 Costello's Sandwiches and the Uptowner Cafe, both in the 2200 block of North Lincoln Avenue, shut down earlier this year.
Costello's Sandwiches and the Uptowner Cafe, both in the 2200 block of North Lincoln Avenue, shut down earlier this year.
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DNAinfo/Paul Biasco

LINCOLN PARK — In the year since Children's Memorial Hospital moved from its Lincoln Park location, numerous businesses within walking distance have closed and others are struggling to remain open.

The list of fallen businesses on Lincoln Avenue includes Costello's Sandwiches, the Uptowner Cafe, America's Dog and a 7-Eleven.

"For Christ's sake we lost a 7-Eleven on the corner. When have you heard of a 7-Eleven going out of business?" said Matt Imig, owner of O'Malley's West, 2249 N. Lincoln Ave. "That's kind of a scary sign of things for all of us."

Imig said he and other Lincoln Avenue bar owners routinely meet to discuss the state of the neighborhood and the consensus is things are bad.

 The site of the former Children's Memorial Hospital in Lincoln Park has sat vacant for more than a year.
The site of the former Children's Memorial Hospital in Lincoln Park has sat vacant for more than a year.
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DNAinfo/Paul Biasco

He said he and his business partner haven't taken home more than a couple of paychecks in the past year as they've tried to keep the business afloat.

"The owners that get together, the opinion is it's not worth putting any money in on that street," Imig said. "It's pretty clear from everybody's bottom line."

Many of the bars and sandwich shops along Lincoln Avenue were frequented by hospital staff and guests for lunch and for after-work drinks.

According to an analysis by the Lincoln Park Chamber of Commerce, more than 1.5 million people visited the hospital each year, for an average of 4,100 people a day.

When the hospital moved to Streeterville in June 2012 and became the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital, it took more than 4,300 employees with it, according to the chamber.

One of the businesses that decided to pull the plug on its Lincoln Avenue location, Costello's Sandwiches, has had success at its other three locations for years.

The Lincoln Avenue location lasted only seven months.

"Our original thought was we really liked the space," said Rob Procell, co-owner of Costello's. "I think that specific location being on that stretch of the street is going to turn into a dead zone."

Costello's has been in business for 14 years in Roscoe Village and 12 in Lincoln Square. The business also has a Wrigleyville location.

"It bums us out because we've been pretty successful with everything we've done," Procell said.

Immediately next to Costello's, the Uptowner Cafe now sits empty. It served its last plate of eggs on May 5.

The owner of that establishment could not be reached for comment, but a post on the business' Facebook page states the restaurant will be closed for the summer "in search of a better location."

Business owners in the area say they have been hung out to dry while negotiations stalled for more than a year over plans for development at the former hospital site at the corner of Fullerton and Lincoln avenues.

The hope was that a proposed mixed-use redevelopment would eventually add life to the area in a few years, and construction workers would at least bring some business back to Lincoln Avenue in the meantime.

Daniel McCaffery, CEO of developer McCaffery Interests Inc., told DNAinfo Chicago he hoped talks between himself, Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) and the city would re-ignite now that the Wrigley Field renovation deal has been approved.

Smith rejected the original proposal, demanding less density from the developer, and has refused to take action on the development until overcrowding issues at nearby Lincoln Elementary were  addressed.

The school already is overcrowded by Chicago Public Schools standards, and any children coming from condominiums in the proposed development would only add to that problem, the alderman contends.

Imig said the community has resisted previous plans to bring in new bars and nightlife to the area, and bar owners fear resident scrutiny of new bars or liquor licenses will scare off new businesses.

"Everywhere I go, whether I go to Wrigley, River North, Wicker Park, I see new construction, new restaurants, new gastropubs," Imig said. "You see that in every neighborhood except ours."

Smith and the Lincoln Park Chamber of Commerce hoped to provide a boost to hurting businesses along Lincoln earlier this summer by bringing a street festival back to the block.

Unfortunately, the fest was plagued by cold and rainy weather.

"Irony upon irony, most of the businesses lost money those two days," Imig said.